QUEENSBURY — The Town Board approved the 2018 budget with an 8.8 percent tax cut last week, but not before getting a scolding from resident Travis Whitehead.
The town is saving too much money instead of cutting taxes further, he said.
“It would take a total disaster to wipe you out,” he added when board members defended the need to rebuild savings after a short-lived attempt to eliminate town taxes a decade ago.
In a series of spreadsheets, Whitehead tracked yearly transfers of surplus funds each year, from 2014 through 2017.
“The average is $1.5 million. Our town tax is $2 million. We could drop 75 percent of the tax and we’d be in fantastic shape,” he said.
Board members noted that the transfers went to long-term expenses, such as a $3.6 million highway garage to replace the one that is falling apart.
From 2008 through 2010, the town also didn’t buy any trucks, said Councilman Tony Metivier.
“We need to clean that up,” he said. “So why don’t we start buying? I don’t see the hardship in that.”
Whitehead came prepared with an answer. The town purchased four dump trucks, at nearly $250,000 each, in the last three years, he said.
After those purchases were made, the town was still able to set aside an average of $1.5 million a year, he said.
With “a little less money” saved up, the town might make better decisions about its spending, he added.
However, Whitehead agreed that the experiment in eliminating the town tax went too far. The town’s savings dropped to zero in a few years after the tax was eliminated.
“That would also be the wrong thing to do,” Whitehead said.
Also speaking was resident Mark Westcott, who was, at the time, volunteer campaign manager for supervisor candidate Rachel Seeber. Westcott echoed Whitehead’s push for a lower tax rate.
Councilman Tim Brewer scoffed at that idea, saying, “And then next year we should bond a $5 million building?”
Yes, Westcott said.
“I think bonding is a very viable alternative ... spread those payments out,” he said.
That way the building is not “on the backs of senior citizens,” he added.
He wasn’t the only one advocating for borrowing.
“The very reason you folks have been given the power to bond is to spread the cost of the item through its useful life, so the people paying for it are the ones benefiting from it,” said resident John Salvadore. “Basically, we are overtaxed.”
The Town Board voted on the proposed budget after Ward 3 Councilman George Ferone was sworn into office. He took the seat vacated by Councilman Doug Irish, who resigned several months after moving out of state. Ferone also ran unopposed in last week’s election.
The board voted 3-2 in favor of the budget, with Ferone and Councilman Brian Clements voting no.
Also up for debate last week was whether the tax rate is truly going down, considering that property values rose an average of 18 percent after a revaluation in 2014.
Before the reval, the average single-family house in Queensbury was assessed at $208,800 after the equalization rate was taken into account, according to Assessor Teri Ross. After the reval, the average rose to $257,900, she said.
The tax rate was $0.603 per $1,000 of assessed property in 2014. The rate for 2018 will be $0.539.
That means the average tax bill for a single-family house was $125.91 in 2014 and will be $139.01 next year, even though the tax rate went down 8.8 percent.
Supervisor John Strough had argued that tax bills are going down with the tax rate, but Whitehead pointed out that due to the change in assessment, people are paying more even though the tax rate is going down.